Honduran high court tosses out case against activists

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — One day after six Honduran environmental activists were convicted for alleged actions against a mining operation, the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber unanimously sided with the defendants on two long-standing appeals and threw out their case late Thursday.

The conviction of six of the so-called Guapinol 8 on Wednesday brought international criticism on the new government of President Xiomara Castro. While their case predates her two-week old administration, advocates called on Castro’s government to act.

Kenia Oliva, their lawyer, explained that the Constitutional Chamber determined their due process rights were violated from the very beginning.

“They should have been freed in the initial appearance,” she said.

Most of the men had been in pre-trial detention since 2019, accused of deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson. Two of the eight were acquitted.

They are all members of the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Common and Public Goods, which has been protesting the legality of mining concessions in northern Honduras they argue threaten the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers. The concessions are inside a national park.

Before the Supreme Court’s decision, the men’s lawyers planned to seek relief under a broad new amnesty passed last week for prisoners of conscience, said Hugo Maldonado, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras. “The trial has been manipulated and there hasn’t been due process.”

Prosecutors had alleged the activists damaged private property and illegally held a security expert during a clash with the mine’s security team. But advocates have long asserted that the arrests were arbitrary and aimed at quelling protests against the mine.

The Constitutional Chamber ruled on appeals from 2020 and February 2021 that challenged how the men’s case was handled. The court did not say why its decision came one day after their convictions.

Before the high court’s decision, Isabel Albaladejo Escribano, representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras, expressed “deep concern” over the verdict.

Her office said they had followed the trial closely. There was a lack of impartiality and prosecutors did not meet a minimum standard of proof, the statement said. She called for the convictions to be overturned.

Late Thursday, after the case was tossed out, Alice Shackelford, the U.N.'s resident coordinator in Honduras, praised the move as “fantastic news!”

Honduras is considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environmental activists. One of its most infamous cases was the 2016 murder of Berta Cáceres, who was protesting a hydroelectric project.